Gov. William Donald Schaefer told nearly 2,000 members of the BUILD civic activist group that they have one more chance to see statewide equity in school funding become a reality.
"If you don't do it in the coming session, forget about it for the next three years," the governor said. "It's in the 1992 session or it's over."
The governor made his remarks yesterday afternoon at the Convention Center during the annual meeting of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development. The non-profit, interfaith community organization has tackled many social issues, including voter registration, affordable housing and unemployment.
Representatives of 55 churches from Baltimore and Prince George's County attended.
At the two-hour meeting, Schaefer said the ideal time for passage of the idea would have been during this year's 90-day legislative session, when his proposed statewide school reform package under the Linowes Commission was introduced. But people didn't like the idea of added taxes or new expenditures, so legislators didn't pass it.
The Linowes Commission would have created new revenues to fund education and other programs, and the governor's Sondheim commission would have made state's elementary and secondary schools publicly accountable.
"I heard all this before," Schaefer said. "I heard people say we want accountability and then failed to back it up.
"I heard people say we want more money for education and failed to come down to the legislature and put the pressure on," he said.
Moreover, Schaefer said he would support BUILD in its attempt for school funding reform, but BUILD members, he said, must make "a strong pitch" for its passage in the General Assembly.
BUILD is trying to form a new statewide team to end the school funding disparity between the city and other impoverished jurisdictions and those that are wealthier and can provide better education.
For example, during the 1989 to 1990 school year, per-pupil education spending totaled $4,614 in Baltimore, ranking the city 19th in the state. By comparison, Montgomery County had the highest, spending $7,213 per pupil. Howard County ranked second with $6,029.
"When it comes to our children and education, the state of Maryland has maintained a policy of separate and unequal," said the Rev. Curtis Jones, a co-chair of BUILD. "This issue has been studied to death. Every elected official in this state knows the injustice that the state is dealing out to poor children.
"No more talk! It's time to act."
The Rev. Robert Behnke, a BUILD co-chair, agreed. "It's justice that has gone unattended for far too long," he said. "It's time to do something."
He and other BUILD members said the city wants an additional $2,000 to $3,000 to raise its level of per-pupil funding.
"Every child should get the same money across the state, not just in one county," said Margaret Waddell, a BUILD co-chair.
The disparity creates "a divisive competition for the educational dollar in Maryland," Behnke told the delegates.
In April, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke raised the possibility of a lawsuit if other measures failed to create equity.
Yesterday, Carol Reckling, a member of BUILD's national leadership team, said the group is serious about education and will make improvements as it has done for other issues.
The group has gathered 5,500 of 10,000 needed signatures to place a referendum for school-based management on the coming ballot. "We do this to show our seriousness," Reckling said.
Meanwhile, state legislators and city lawmakers were present at the convention and five of them, including the mayor, gave their verbal support for equity in state school funding.
Reckling asked the legislators if they would place state funding parity as the number one priority in the coming General Assembly and if they would attend a strategy meeting with BUILD in the second week
She noted that House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell's presence was wanted in September. He was scheduled to address the delegates yesterday, but reportedly failed to show because of a christening.
"I accept [the requests] with everything I have," said Sen. Clarence W. Blount. "The education of the children of this city is the greatest business we have before us."
Others who nodded were Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and Del. Howard P. Rawlings, all D-City.
So did the mayor. Schmoke said, "It's a very tough challenge, but we can do it, if we make our argument persuasive and we stay united."
He also said, "Baltimore's future depends on brain power and Maryland's future depends on Baltimore's."